News of such lawlessness from Bengal has hit the national conscience since the beginning of the second term of the Trinamool government that it was unthinkable in the era of Indira Gandhi that such a State would not be brought under President’s Rule, with the Centre exercising its special powers under Section 356 of the Constitution. If a plethora of chit fund and other scams were not enough to wreck the lives of the poor, it was followed by the worst form of tempting — not merely appeasing — Muslims, including many Urdu speakers not from the State, to go berserk. Even idolatrous practices that are shirk (apostasy) in Islam, like worshipping the Prophet instead of Allah, were promoted to scuttle, for example, Saraswati Puja with Nabi Divas. Two to three riots erupted every year. Finally, the panchayat elections saw a murder of democracy where opponents of the Trinamool were not allowed even to file their nomination papers. If even that was not enough to stir the nation, the general election has woken India up to the package that Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is, with her government’s functionaries facing charges of economic offence and party workers turning violent — even allegedly killing political rivals — at will.
Earlier this year, Mamata Banerjee had done an Arvind Kejriwal in Kolkata with her sit-in drama when a CBI team went to the Bengal capital to seek an explanation from the then police commissioner Rajeev Kumar about his alleged tampering with the evidence in cases of Saradha and other Ponzi scams. Her act followed the State police’s brazen act of apprehending the central investigators and holding them hostage for daring to question their boss. Any chance that she had had, about a fortnight before that incident, of emerging as a national leader with her successful ‘United India’ rally on the huge Brigade Parade Ground, with the who’s who of the opposition in attendance, vanished as the nation bore witness to her awkward histrionics.
Now, Hindus are not allowed to vote in Muslim-dominated, Trinamool-ruled areas. Mostly authentic videos of the ruling party of the State heckling rivals are doing the rounds of social media. Not one phase of the Lok Sabha election has passed peacefully in Bengal. If the nation did not bother when the bodies of young political activists were found hanging from tree branches in rural Bengal, it must wake up when polling stations and voters’ houses are being bombed.
It’s facile of other Indians to ignore the State as a lost cause, as Indira and Rajiv Gandhi had done, capitulating to the CPM that had unleashed goonda raj with the Sainbari massacre of 1970 in the State much before it came to power, or dismiss it, like now, as “West Bangladesh”. It must be asked which Union government ever tried to rein in the political violence in the State since the Naxal movement of the late 1960s except for Siddhartha Shankar Ray. Having lost Bengal in 1977, Congress never sincerely tried to regain it. After drawing a large chunk of Congress supporters with the Ram Janmabhoomi movement in the early 1990s, the BJP let itself reduce to a “Marwari party” in the mindscape of local Bengalis until the beginning of this decade. While it is judicious of the NDA government not to impose President’s Rule in the State and, in effect, turn martyrs out of rank hooligans that practically rule the Bengal hinterland, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s verbal attacks on the Bengal chief minister still betray his soft corner for the Trinamool, the result of which in the form of an entente cost the BJP many seats in the Assembly election of 2016.
Despite all the neglect and scorn the Delhi-centric polity heaps on Bengal, the province is changing, fed up with Mamata rule. The murmur in urban pockets of the State earlier was that even the worst of CPM rule was better than the Trinamool reign. The henchmen of the Trinamool who now hold sway in rural Bengal were communist goons once upon a time, not so long ago. Its considerable support base has but moved to the BJP — mostly in stealth. The most disturbing news for the party ruling the State should be the fact that its own workers may desert it in the secrecy of the EVM chamber inside the polling station. It is because of their disillusionment with the leadership of their own party that has reportedly failed to distribute the proceeds of the Statewide loot among the apparatchiki. Bengal is voting for change, notwithstanding the absence of central paramilitary forces in several booths. However, a Lok Sabha election does not change a State government. Provided the Bengal strategy of the BJP is able to turn Bengali enough in the intervening years, it can cut the ground from under Mamata Banerjee’s feet in 2021.